Abby Snyder had done hundreds of flip turns in swim practice and at meets. But one turn during practice in 2021 not only landed her in the emergency room, it sidelined her from sports activities for weeks.
“I felt my knee pop and had really sharp pain,” said Abby, who was 12 at the time. “I knew something was wrong and got out of the pool right away.”
Her parents, Jen and Josh Snyder, immediately took her to the emergency room at Goshen Hospital for X-rays and tests on her left leg.
“There was no sign of a major break,” Jen said, “But the doctors could tell something was wrong.”
Little did any of the Snyders know they would be on a six-month journey through sports medicine that took multiple twists and turns as one health concern led to another.
Knee pain sidelines young athletes from repetitive motion
First stop – Goshen Orthopedics for an appointment with Nicholas DeFauw, DO, a sports medicine specialist and medical director for area high school athletic programs. After a series of tests and evaluations, the Snyders learned that Abby’s injury probably was caused by overdoing it in sports.
Abby’s year-round involvement on competitive swimming and softball club teams had strained the muscles and tendons in her knee causing some structures to be irritated and inflamed. She needed to let her leg rest and give it time to heal. That meant doctor’s orders were to wear a brace to stabilize the knee and no sports for a couple of weeks.
Abby had Osgood-Schlatter disease, which affects growing adolescents and can cause inflammation and knee pain. Young athletes like Abby who participate in sports that call for repetitive activities are at increased risk for the condition.
Overuse causes most youth sport injuries
After the knee injury healed, Abby was back in the pool for only a month when her knee started to pop out of place again. Eventually, it just locked up.
Looking back over recent months, the Snyders realized that knee pain had bothered Abby during softball season in the summer.
“Her knee was hurting when she was catching, and it was hurting when she was going into the swim season,” Jen said.
All the kneeling and squatting in softball put stress on the knee bone where the patellar tendon attaches. The repetitive kicking as Abby pushed for personal bests in freestyle, butterfly and other swim events added more stress.
Additional testing led Dr. DeFauw to diagnose Abby with a mild fracture to her growth plate and rule out any meniscal or other structural injury. Osgood-Schlatter disease had caused her growth plate to pull away from the bone and separate the cartilage.
Abby needed to limit her activities again to give her leg time to heal. She also started a rehabilitation program to stretch and strengthen the muscles that stabilize the knee.
Athlete’s condition takes a harrowing turn
Abby worked hard to strengthen her leg muscles, but something wasn’t right. Abby’s muscles in her left leg quit firing, and her leg began to shrink.
“When I flexed it, it felt like there was nothing in my leg to flex,” Abby said.
Josh noticed the difference in the size of her leg and knew it was time for Dr. DeFauw to take another look.
“Her leg was 1.17 cm smaller in circumference than the other leg,” Josh said. “She also was losing muscle in the butt cheek.”
Dr. DeFauw was also concerned as this change in muscle mass or atrophy is not usually seen in the diagnosis of Osgood-Schlatter.
“That got us pretty concerned,” Josh said. “We were really worried because we had no idea what could be causing it.”
At the same time, Abby’s toe on her left foot became red and swollen. It hurt to put weight on it.
“We wondered if it was linked, was it not?” Jen said. “You think of all those worst-case scenarios.”
Dr. DeFauw ordered a series of X-rays and an MRI to help investigate Abby’s condition. Test results led Dr. DeFauw to diagnose Abby with Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida is an incomplete closure or fusion of the posterior bones of the spine and can range from life threatening to completely benign. Further testing and consultations with other doctors helped guide Dr. DeFauw to determine that this was benign and an incidental finding for Abby.
Luckily for Abby, her leg strength started returning and she was able to begin making improvement with the knee exercises. Dr. DeFauw was able to guide her through the twists and turns of her injury while providing support and reducing anxieties.
A return to activities and personal bests
By the time the school year ended in 2022, Abby was on her game again. She kept up with her stretching exercises at home before sports practices, meets and games. Her parents occasionally taped her knee to give it more stability.
“My knee feels good now,” Abby said. “Sometimes it gets a little stiff and I have to stretch it out.”
The good news for Abby – adolescents eventually grow out of Osgood-Schlatter disease when the growth plate eventually closes.
“I’m close to hitting a state cut for my swim club, which is really exciting,” Abby said. “And I joined a travel team for softball and that’s really cool.”
Another reward – Abby got some high fives from Dr. DeFauw during a chance meeting on the sidelines of a high school football game in the fall of 2022. He was genuinely happy to see her and congratulated her on her comeback in sports as well as her dedication to keeping her body strong.
“We were super blessed to have great doctors help us through this journey,” Jen said. “Together, they made Abby better.”
Goshen Orthopedics takes an all-inclusive approach to caring for your bones, muscles and joints. Our experienced surgeons, physicians, nurse practitioners and therapists join forces to personalize your treatment. Learn more at GoshenOrtho.com or to schedule an appointment, call (574) 534-2548.